Haiti’s current flag is a bicolor, horizontal flag of blue and red, with a white rectangle in the center featuring a coat of arms. The coat of arms includes a hilltop, weaponry, and a palm tree. A white ribbon on the hillside states, “Unity is Strength”. But what is the history of the Haitian flag? Was it always this way, and are there multiple flags?
Haiti’s First Flag
This current flag that we see today has a long history. It was first brought revealed 1806 by President Alexandre Petion, but was most recently reintroduced to the country in 2012.
Haiti’s very first flag as an independent nation is said to be created by revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines. It’s said that he took a French flag, tore out the white bits and then sewed the red and blue together to make the first Haitian flag. According to local history, blue represented Haiti’s African residents while the red represented those of mixed European and African descent.
However, other accounts say that Dessalines chose the colors based on the Vodun religion and that he happened to be in a Vodun temple in Merote when he created the flag. Therefore, the red and blue symbolize the Vodun god of war, Ogou. Additionally, it’s said that the weapons and palm tree on the current flag are other signs of Vodun (though others argue that they are simply signs of freedom).
This event is said to have taken place on May 18, 1803, the date now celebrated as Haitian Flag Day. The woman who was said to have sewn the two pieces of the French flag together — Catherine Flon, Dessalines’ goddaughter — is now widely celebrated as well. Haitian Flag Day was first celebrated among Haitian communities around the world in the late 1990s, but was celebrated in Haiti in relative secrecy during the U.S. Occupation from 1915 to 1934.
Haiti’s Second Flag – and Beyond
This first flag only stuck around two years. In 1805, after Dessalines decided to become the emperor of Haiti, he changed the flag’s colors from blue and red to black and red. The year after, Petion introduced the flag we see today.
Various rulers came on the scene over the course of Haitian history and made their own changes to the flag. In the 1960s to the 1980s, the flag re-adopted its black and red colors.
In addition to the colors and coat of arms on the flag changing throughout history, the motto on the flag changed several times as well. Other mottos have included “Unity Makes Strength”, “Our Unity Will be Our Strength”, and “Freedom or Death”. The latter motto was adopted from the French Revolution and was likely on the original French flag created by Dessalines.
Want to learn more about Haiti and its history? Check out the Restavek Freedom blog where you can also learn how you can help free Haitian children from the restavek system and increase Haiti’s chances for a bright future.